Thursday, June 3, 2010

Our Busy (and Threatened) Bees

On a bright afternoon this week, walking up a trail in Marinwood, I heard buzzing--lots of buzzing--and looked up the slope ahead of me. There, whirling in and out of a hole in the side of a dead tree, rose a tornado of bees. I'd spied a natural hive--but I wasn't the only one. I noticed a little handmade sign dangling from a nearby bush, warning folks to be mindful of the bees, and to let them, well, be. I watched the little winged workers, coming, going, buzzing off in the bright sun, carrying a message somehow programmed into their tiny brains by watching their sisters dance a magical pattern that showed where to find nectar-filled flowers on this warm summer afternoon.

Bees are having a tough time in Marin--and elsewhere. In a recent article in Marinscope's Twin City Times, local beekeeper Jerry Draper (he has 10 hives in San Anselmo) noted that all honeybee populations are in bad shape, mostly due to mites and diseases that have wiped out entire colonies. Since bees are needed to pollinate a third of the food we eat, that's not just bad news for bees--it's bad for us too. In fact, one out of every three things you eat is here because of tiny, remarkable, pollen-dabbling bees.

How are Jerry's 10 hives doing? In past years, he has collected up to 10 pounds of honey. So far this year? None. That might be due in part to the late spring, but whatever the reason, these little guys (rather, gals--all worker bees that collect honey and pollinate are female) are suffering. And Marin isn't some were blip on the bee screen. U.S. reports show a 33 percent drop in managed honeybee colonies nationwide. Even at Sunset Magazine, staff-managed hives have struggled with mites and disease. (You can read about the escapades of "Team Bee" on the staff's award-winning blog, One-Block Diet.

But let's get back t Marn's bees. Jerry Draper and others are part of the Marin Survivor Stock Queen Bee Project, aiming to boost local bee populations without chemicals to kill off the bad stuff--the theory is that resistant bees will be able to survive, and will lead to a genetically resistant bee (it's feared that chemicals might simply lead to genetically resistant mites and diseases--bad idea). This spring, the project has recorded over 70 Marin colonies that have been healthy on their own for two or more years. Let's hope they keep thriving, along with my little Marinwood hive.

To see the Marinwood wild bees, take Marinwood Dr. exit off U.S. 101; head northwest to Queenstone Drive. Turn right and park at the dead end 1 block ahead. Hike the fire road up about 200 yards--and listen...


  1. Not only Marin - here in South Africa we have had the worst season for honey production ever. I have two hives of my own and lost one to wax moth, I am having to feed the other one to keep it going. Our local bee society is in emergency-mode, trying to find ways to combat the decline in bee populations. The reasons? Nobody really knows, although habitat destruction is possibly one. Chemicals are another. Our changing weather patterns are also having an effect. So - be kind to bees!

  2. I love visiting the Bee Keeping supply store in Sebastopol; they also teach classes in beekeeping. But I have to say, Craigslist is full of ads for used beekeeping equipment; does that mean it's just too difficult? Would love to hear more from those who do it.